RTA Ch. 13: Island Finster

rta chap 13 island finster

Even here in my combustible city of millions, empty lots line Atlantic Avenue. Past the highway and approaching the mineral blue sea, squares of cement bricks, rusting equipment, abandoned campfires and dirty tents sit staggered. It’s a shame, if you ask me. They’re like private parks where stringy bums and migrant hires meet, one to watch and the other to build. A few kids kick at things while slippery neighbors sell them drugs.

Home Depot is appropriately near. Its parking lot In-n-Out is tempting, even now, but I feel Grandma watching me. I popped a funny bear earlier and I tend to get hungry after.

So I drive on. Grandma now looks dead ahead, following the road. Her eyes are near closed, focused. She knows where we’re going. The near accident, the escape has calmed me. I’m cool as ever, like I’m at the table, never left it.

I freestyle an arm out the window and let my hand glide in the almost salty air. Everyone forgets you have to get away from the stuffy grey of the central city, not here and there, but all the time. This is peace, Long Beach.

I’m tired of traffic reports, let’s hear some music. An appropriately happy thumping emerges from the late nineties on the dial.

You probably think I should turn on to some side street, hide as the shadows come and the pink encarboned sky tells us it’s time for parties and people and hunger.

I have other plans. Grandma and I are just going to disappear for a while. I have an ace up my sleeve called Island Finster.

We catch our first red light on Pacific Coast. Young pedestrians slump across the sidewalk; a school is nearby. Cars are everywhere again, on the street, parked, in giant parking lots for unknown strip malls and dentists and hobby shops and bodegas you will never know. I take a breath and push my sunglasses into my face. Focus on the thumping.

You see back in the day with all the wild oil production in Los Angeles, Long Beach was literally sinking itself into the water. They came up with an ingenious plan – THUMS. Texaco, Humble, Union, Mobile, and Shell pitched in to create a half dozen artificial islands to drill from offshore and ease the pressure on Long Beach. Five remain, and four are active.  Island Finster ceased production a few years ago, shipping its machinery to Island Grifford when it was found to be sinking itself.

Burt Finster was my grandfather. He was an engineer for the city, and later a science offer for NASA. He wasn’t killed in the Apollo accident, but he was done in by an Island Copperhead which had spooled itself into a fuel loading pipe at Kennedy. All the islands are named in honor of NASA guys. Finster Fencing was later the name for dug-in screen to keep out reptiles and such, so he was honored at least twice.

We pass the Rabbit at the Polytechnic. A few older kids, thin as hungry varmints themselves, still linger. The day is almost gone, and I need to hurry or miss the last boat out.

Burt Finster had a piece of the pie of THUMS, having been hired along with other crack government engineers by the group of oil companies. Grandma is his daughter and closest living relative.

And that means we have a parking pass at the private loading dock and permission to visit during daylight hours.

It’s the perfect escape. I mean, for now. A taco would help.

My mind is already wandering. The thumping is aggressive and won’t stop; I’m sure DJ Incel from the Endboss meet up games plays this bop; he loves the driving rhythms and never relents, what a talent for his craft. Later, we’ll go to Grandma’s and check out the scene. If Mwin is there, we leave, but if not, we grab her dogs and hit the road to Alberta.

THUMS means I have, I think, an inheritance. Don’t tell anyone. I’ve told no one at the Endboss. Maybe Gilda. Did I tell Burke? The truth is, I always wanted to impress Burke, he just seemed like such a great player. Always broke, somehow, but life is hard.

I really don’t think I told Soh Juh. Between hands, at the noodle bars, even when we were in Hollywood and making the big play with the magic box, I was never that close to him, surely? I didn’t ask what the machine did or why we needed to make the game crooked. Everyone wanted money and they probably would have done the same thing to us. I could have won the money, besides.

You probably think I was justifying myself earlier, taking the fifty thousand from the game box so I could get Grandma a dignified end. The truth is, I was just the first mover. Or the second, I guess.

Besides, there was so much more money that was supposed to be there. Why should they notice a fraction of the haul?

No, no one would suspect me going to Island Finster. Mwin is probably calling Soh Juh now, lost. Maybe they’ll give up.

You know, if I don’t use all the money, I could probably give them some back. We could be friends again. Maybe I could get back on stream and we can put all this unpleasant business behind us. It was business, it wasn’t personal.

I think I really understand what the boomers mean by that strange saying, having gone through this ordeal.

I’m wiser now.

The streets go by easily, even as the traffic slows. Californians everywhere, walking, skating, rolling, jogging, laughing. They love yellow and pink and pastels but also black and grey and red. They are skinny and smug but also fat and gentle, a deluge of sunny, happy different people. They all have sunglasses, I have sunglasses.

It’s strange that I would ever leave this paradise.

As the sun begins to set, we pull onto Marina Drive. Families cross the road and dock fishers turn to hear me lightly honk at them.  I affix the THUMS pass after fumbling through the glove box. Grandma is wise and protects us, even silent and ready to, you know, do what needs to be done.

We follow the curve into the evening bay. The sky is a bright dream. Instead of tourists, the people around us have hardhats now, they look at us and our green pass without curiosity. We’re in the restricted loading zone, and the small ferry is just pulling into its dock.

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